Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Idolatrous Homeschooling

This Friday, I have the privilege of leading two workshops at the APACHE homeschooling conference.  One of my talks is entitled "The Idol of Family."  While Whitney and I have enjoyed our years of homeschooling very much, the homeschooling lifestyle can easily cause my heart to begin to create an idol out of my family.  Homeschoolers face some unique temptations to idolize the family because of decisions they have made regarding the structure of their lives. 

Before I continue, a few caveats:

(1) What I'm saying is not an attack on homeschooling.  It's some "in-house" observations.  All decisions we make can lead to creating an idol of something. 

(2) The idol of family is not a problem exclusive to homeschoolers.  In some ways, I could just switch around some words and give this talk to Christian school parents or public school parents.  If our family went to Peoria Christian School, I'm sure I'd have some observations about the manifestation of idolatry in the hearts of private schoolers.  In the coming years, I'm sure my heart will be challenged as my kids attend public school and I'll have another talk or two about that. 

(3) Don't read between the lines too much.  I'm not trying to launch a veiled attack at anyone.  I'm not really a movement homeschooler and so although I'm aware there are homeschooling "camps" (or militias?), I'm not a member of any, nor do I understand all of the differences between them.  I may be saying some things that sound like an attack on some camps but, to the best of my knowledge, that would be unintentional.  (That being said, maybe the nerd picture is a little harsh...?)

(4) Loving one’s family is biblical.  The danger comes when I set my heart’s ultimate affection not upon God but upon the five other individuals who make up my immediate family.

In my talk Friday, I’ll be defining idolatry, briefly looking at the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1-2, then considering six signs you struggle with idolizing the family.  Here’s a rough overview of some of the things I plan to say about those six signs.
Six Signs You Struggle with Idolizing the Family

#1: You abuse your God-given parental authority.

Homeschooling parents, as they envision the type of children they would like to raise, can become confused regarding the nature, extent, and purpose of their authority.  This leads them to potentially abuse the authority God has given them.
The purpose of parental authority is not to impose our will upon someone else.  As Jesus said regarding the difference between our natural understanding of authority and God’s design for authority among believers:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28).
The purpose of authority in Scripture is to serve.  Parents exercise spiritual authority not by conforming their children into caricatures of themselves but by helping them know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.

This doesn’t mean that biblical parental authority is devoid of decrees and dictums that are to be obeyed.  To the contrary, as biblical parental authority is properly exercised, children should be all the more careful to follow their parents' instructions exactly.  But the goal of exercising authority is radically different for the believer who wishes to avoid idolatry.  The parent is mindful of the biblical restraints placed upon his sphere of authority.  There should be a reluctance to go beyond that sphere or impose his will.

Homeschooling parents can struggle with the notion that their children will act in ways that are contrary to their preferences for their life.  Their idolatrous conception of what the ideal family looks like may drive them to exercise authority in realms where it is unwise to do so.
#2: You are motivated not by trust in God but by fear of man.

God calls us to trust in Him and believe in His good plan for us.  Making decisions regarding  your children’s schooling because you are fearful of people is idolatrous. 
This does not mean we should treat sinful influences in our children's lives lightly.  God has called you to be mindful of the environment you place your children.  If a family decides that the best school for their child for a period of time is in their home, that is wonderful.

Do not, however, be so fearful of the world’s power that you believe God is at its mercy.  A teacher does not have the power to turn your child into a communist or vegetarian.   God still sits enthroned in the heavens and laughs at the schemes of the rulers of the earth (Ps. 2:1-4).
#3: You respond sinfully when your goals for your family are not met.

Our reaction to disappointed dreams reveals what we really worship (James 4:1-10).  When our goals for our family—however noble—are frustrated, the response of our heart reveals whether we were worshipping God or an idol.
#4: You view your children as an end instead of a means.

Hannah desperately longed for a child.  But as 1 Samuel 1-2 makes clear, she did not view her precious child as the end goal.  Even the gift of a child was a means to worship God.
Your children are not the end goal.  Your children are yet another means God has given you to engage in worship of Him.

#5: You teach your children to have an unbiblical view of the family. 

The way many homeschoolers conceive the family is not how the Bible would understand family.  They rightly love the individuals who live in their home, but they are tempted to believe that their familial responsibilities are fulfilled by simply meeting the needs of the nuclear family. 
In Exegetical Fallacies, D. A. Carson addresses “semantic anachronisms.”  Carson writes: “This fallacy occurs when a late use of a word is read back into earlier literature” (33).  The way we center our lives around the nuclear family is a recent cultural phenomenon.  When we encounter the family in Scripture, we are sometimes guilty of the semantic anachronism of which Carson speaks, assuming that Scripture understands the family the same way we do in North America. 

It is important to teach children not to idolize the nuclear family.  Our family doesn’t exist simply to meet the needs of the individuals who live under our roof.  We seek to honor and care for our grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and the family of God.

#6: You teach your children to have an unbiblical view of the church.

The unbiblical view family leads to an unbiblical view of the church.  Homeschooling families can become so consumed with their nuclear family that they don’t have the energy or desire to engage in ministry in the local church. In some circumstances, families may even say that homeschooling is their ministry. 
But this attitude is harmful for both the church and the family.  It deprives the church of the vital spiritual gifts that the members of the family possess.  It hurts the family as they fail to experience the joy of serving others.


These are just some of my initial thoughts about what I plan to share Friday.  I reserve the right to make adjustments to this blog throughout the week so feel free to offer insight or suggestions!


Adam Byerly said...

On your points, mostly a thank you and notes on what impacted me, with one question on your 6th point:

#1: A favorite of mine to remember and consider: Matt. 20:25-28

#2: "A teacher does not have the power to turn your child into a communist or vegetarian." ...lol

#4: deep

#5: Good book and good point: "In Exegetical Fallacies, D. A. Carson addresses 'semantic anachronisms.' Carson writes: 'This fallacy occurs when a late use of a word is read back into earlier literature' (33). The way we center our lives around the nuclear family is a recent cultural phenomenon. When we encounter the family in Scripture, we are sometimes guilty of the semantic anachronism of which Carson speaks, assuming that Scripture understands the family the same way we do in North America."

#6: "families may even say that homeschooling *is* their ministry" ...here are you perhaps cautioning not to see their responsibility to their children as their *only* ministry? ...perhaps this is a caution regarding raising our children regardless of school choice?

The Roberts Family said...

Great thoughts to ponder. Sometimes "serving in the local church" also means going out and doing things the local church is not doing.

One thing I really appreciate about homeschooling is the opportunity to go out in the world and serve alongside our children. Right now our sons work with their dad in homes that often have never even THOUGHT about stepping foot in the local church. Customers are watching. Things like integrity, work ethic and joy speak VOLUMES to those watching. We used to be a "full-time-ministry-church-planting-family". While this season is new and different, we're learning to embrace it. Even when it involves our older sons being around people who wreak of alcohol and use the filthiest language their ears have ever heard. We know this is where God has us right now.

EVERY family is to be about serving others. Being a light. No matter your educational choice. That even means welcoming others into our homes that look, believe and act way different than us. Isn't that what Jesus did?

We appreciate homeschool freedoms greatly. If our children were away from us the majority of us each day, we don't feel we could adequately know and shepherd them as God has called us to in this season. However, if God calls us to something different later, we have full confident He would be JUST as faithful to help us with whatever it is we're to do.

God has to stay as the primary focus. Not our families. Not our homes. Not our curriculum. Not our possessions.

Praying that many will come and hear this weekend. :)

Chris H said...

I wish I could homeschool, but it doesn't look financially possible. I would love to be able to teach my child what's important to know, and to push him to excel (whatever that looks like for him), because I know that the public school won't do it.

One of the things that makes me most sad is when parents who have no business in scholastic education (and they are out there, but - God be praised - a minority), doggedly persist in homeschooling....

Anonymous said...

While I think your points are accurate on some counts, homeschooling has been anything but an idolatrous exercise for our family. On the contrary, it has required a deeper trust in God than we've ever known as we've faced hostility and bigotry from both our extended families and the community in which we live. Our experience is that homeschooling requires the sacrifice of idols, and not so much the building of them. We've have said "no" to things like a second income, a nicer financial lifestyle, the acceptance and priase of man in regards to how we are viewed in our small community, nice "stuff", vacations... the list could go on and on. It has been my personal experience that these things- the stuff of this eartly life- are very much idols in the hearts of the average Christian, and most people would not dare dream of doing without because of the way they would be viewed by people. And that seems to be a far bigger "idol" threat than the idols faced in the course of living out and being a homeschooling family. Homeschooling has been a tool God has used to reveal my sin, my wekaness, and my utter dependence on Him. And I can honestly say that nearly every homeschooler that I have ever met has viewed homeschooling with a sober heart, knowing that they stand accountable before God for the way in which they have taught and trained their children. I find it a little sad that homeschooling parents, most of whom already face a heavy load and discouragement from multiple sources, are singled out in regards to "idols" when literally nothing is said from the pulpits in America about the parents who send their children off to government-controlled schools, regardless of how anti-God these schools become. Just my two cents.

Daniel Bennett said...

@Adam: yes on your question about #6.

@the Roberts Family: great points.

@ChrisH: Thanks for the post... look forward to hearing more from you.

@anonymous: I'm glad homeschooling has been good for you.

Regarding your concerns, I have a few thoughts. (1) Our hearts are idol making factories. For instance, even as we give up material possessions, we can become prideful about our sacrifices. As a homeschool parent, I think the things I mentioned are real dangers and should be addressed. (2) Regarding the need to address other situations, please see my caveat #2. Of course other situations could be addressed, but--alas--my space is limited. I can only offend one segment of society at a time!

Also, I feel more equipped to speak into the situation I face and not the situation other parents are in.

KimBEARly said...

Well written and thought provoking for parents, no matter what educational path is chosen...#4 especially resonated with me, as I fell into that trap when we were struggling to conceive our son.
Thank you!

Leelnd said...

Chris H

On what basis does a parent have no business in scholastic education? Who sets the standard? The State? No thanks... I don't think you have adequately researched the issues, though I appreciate that you don't have confidence in the public schools.

I somehow have a hard time believing the State believes Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10.

We must have a Biblical Worldview when it comes to our presupposition, particularly with our epistemology (our view of knowledge).

Pastor Bennett, found your blog recently and enjoy reading it.

The only comment I have is that while Idolatry can be true in the setting of the home school family, it seems far more prevalent in non home school families. One example is sports.

Many people criticize homeschooling because kids can't participate in organized sports. Well, children today are traveling all over for sports and spending every day with practice or games, leaving no time for God and church. Many leagues now can cause you to miss church! Where is the church in exposing the idolatry of sports entertainment?

I understand that your post topic is dealing specifically with Homeschooling and possible issues that are probably often ignored. It just seems like there are far issues in Public School families that get completely ignored.

Chris H said...

Leelnd: Fair question, I suppose. Here's my reply: A person (anyone) has no business being in the role of scholastic educator when their own abilities in that area are lacking. For example, imagine that a parent was uneducated himself - to the point that simple arithmetic was likely to be done wrong - and insisted on homeschooling; wouldn't we say he perhaps ought not, so that his child had a better chance of getting her sums right?

If a parent was an especially bad driver - lots of accidents, didn't know the rules of the road - but had a license, would we still be okay with him driving his kids to the store? I wouldn't be pumped about it.

This isn't about how fit a parent a person is, nor about turning one's child over to the State for indoctrination, but only - and I repeat only - about one's skills in education.

You will be hard-pressed to find someone as wantonly interested in the Godly bringing up of his son as I am, I hope. I would, however, rather have maths taught correctly to a child by an atheist than incorrectly by a Christian.

thatmom said...

Chris, you are assuming that having a teaching certificate = having the best ability to teach your child. Did you now that the Brian Ray research on homeschooling shows that a parent's level of education and/or teaching certification has little to no impact on the results?

I would highly recommend you read this testimony shared by a homeschooling mom. It is awesome what the Lord will do in someone's life!

Daniel Bennett said...

@Karen, (thatmom), good to hear from you!

Not to put words in Chris' mouth, but I don't think he was arguing for some state-recognized certification.

His original comment was that there were some homeschooling parents who were not qualified to teach their kids. He was careful to say that these families are a minority.

I think we've all seen families that are homeschooling that make us very uncomfortable with some of their methodology.

I may be misreading him, but I think he would agree with your overall point.

thatmom said...

Ok, can see that...think I wasn't getting his point.

You know, only once have I ever been concerned about the academic achievements of a homeschooled child and in that case, the parents, bless their hearts, really wanted their kids to have a Christian education but they were dirt poor and somewhat illiterate themselves. Their wonderful church family, also concerned, came alongside them and financed placing their children in a local Christian school. It was a lovely picture of the body working together in love.

I have, however, seen some pretty scary nonacademic situations where young people were raised in a paradigm of spiritual abuse and legalism. Sadly, many of those young people are so scarred that they struggle with bitterness and difficulty in building good relationships. I am so thankful for grace, both for what the Lord pours out to me daily and for what I have seen happen in the lives of some of those who struggle in this way. That is the real concern I have re:homeschooling.

thatmom said...

Oh, one other thought. What makes a parent "qualified" to teach their own children?

Leelnd said...


What makes them qualified is the fact that God placed the child under the responsibility of that parent.


I still respond with what is the basis of being qualified to educate a child? You still seemed to be assuming/presupposing a social, cultural and thus secular idea/standard of what education is.

I also think its an absurdity to use an example of simple arithmetic for rejecting a parents right to educate their children. Even if someone was teaching their children Math incorrectly (however unlikely that would be)what gives anyone the right to tell them they can't educate their own children and on what basis? What is the basis of ones "skill in education"? It seems your answer is relative, but relative to what?

All things are subjected to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, that includes Math and Science and education. That isn't to say that an unbeliever can know aspects of knowledge and "do math correctly." That is indeed part of God's common grace. Public Schools suppress & deny the Lordship of Christ in all claims of knowledge.

I'd like to recommend Books and other material by Dr. Voddie Bauchum. He puts things on a more popular level and is enjoyable to read.

Pastor Bennett,

I agree that ChrisH isn't arguing for a state-recognized certification. But still seems to assume an authority of some sort (seems relative to ones own level of education) for the basis of someones qualification to educate their own children. This breaks down in fundamental ways.

First, at what point is someone not qualified to educate their children? What subjects & curriculum are appropriate for education (specifically Christian). Who is given the right to make that determination and judgement?

Second, how does one grow in knowledge? If it is relative to the knowledge of the one educating the student then we will never advance past the level of education of the educator. Which begs the question of how the educator received the level knowledge they have? I believe basis of ones ability to learn, gain knowledge and wisdom is not on how much education the educator has, but on the students moral & epistemology foundations provided by the educator. If we are Christians then that is the Bible.


Chris H said...

Thanks for holding me up, Pastor Daniel; you got my point exactly.

@Leelnd: I'm struggling to discern whether you're a well-meaning brother or sister in Christ, or someone who is very subtly trolling a sensitive topic.

I am struggling because I find it difficult to imagine a mindset that would prefer a child learn bad arithmetic from a parent over good arithmetic from a public school. This seems foolish at best, and dogmatic at worst.

So that I am clear: I would prefer to homeschool my child because I believe his education will be better; it will be more complete, tailored to his learning style, and will incorporate Biblical wisdom into lessons. I believe these things because I am well-educated and value academic learning. This isn't boasting in my own ability (God provided me the opportunities and wherewithal I needed to achieve these things, and I use them for His glory), but only a statement about why I think what I do.

If Adam was barely literate and could not accomplish simple arithmetic correctly, I would say that he is not qualified to homeschool his children, for the same reason that I would never ask a self-taught doctor to remove my appendix; the skills just aren't there. That isn't a commentary on Adam's fitness to be a parent, how much he loves his children, how Godly a man he is; he simply would not be a good academic educator because he lacks it himself.

I think I understand why you are where you are: you wish to protect children from a system that rejects God, and you feel that the Bible commands Christian parents academically educate their children. I don't disagree with your motives; it's the logical end of your argument that has me disagreeing with you.

@Thatmom: I thank you for your story about the family who was supported by their church family. That is exactly how it should me.

Leelnd said...


If I appear to be hostile, I sincerely apologize. That is definitely not my intention. I do find it important that brothers in Christ are able to reason together to the edification of the saints, so that we can grow in understanding, knowledge, and love for our Lord. I do take some offense at the notion I may simply be "trolling" as I don't see in my posts what would lead anyone to think that except that we disagree, so I hope that this will clarify and I appear genuine.

I understand your argument because I thought the same thing until I began to understand prepositional apologetic methodology which I believe to be the foundation to a Biblical Worldview (because that is what scripture teaches). When I began to understand this, all areas of understanding were effected, including educational methodology. (I recommend Greg Bahnsen material)

Which brings me to my initial question (and Thatmom's question) that you didn't address, what is the basis of determining a parents qualifications to homeschool their children? It appears to me that it is relative, which I would point you to my previous comment that was addressed to Pastor Bennett.

My concern is that if our basis for someones qualifications is relative to the parents level of education, then what is going to stop the state from using the same type of logic for establishing that no parent is qualified to educate a child? My basis for the right of a parent to educate their children is solely on God's eternal purpose in the created order which placed that child under the care of that parent.

I will leave it at that, because this is slightly off topic of the Blog post. I only want to clarify my intention and display what I see as the fundamental issue I saw with your comment. Not a diatribe on education methodology.

If your from the Peoria area, I would be happy to discuss over a cup of coffee. God Bless